Fiction, Writing Tip

How to Write a More Compelling Novel…Even if it’s Quiet

I like to write quiet stories, focused on characters. Going in-depth into their perspectives. Exploring who they are at the core. What doesn’t come as naturally to me is a page-turning, edge-of-your-seat, keep-the-reader-up-all-night plot. The question is: does a book have to be compelling?

In short: yes.

As someone who gravitates toward realistic, quiet fiction, I am no Gillian Flynn and my books will never be compared to something like Gone Girl. But, here’s the thing: people are short on time. Readers give their precious hours. The least I owe them is a story that makes them want to turn the page, to keep going, to stay engaged with the world and the characters I’ve created.

What I’ve come to realize is that compelling doesn’t have to mean heart-thumping, high-drama. But it does mean the reader wants to keep reading. Maybe she won’t stay up all night. But a book that causes her to keep reading, keep wondering what’s going to happen next, is, by definition, compelling.

So, how do you writing a more compelling novel even if it’s quiet? Thankfully I’ve had a brilliant editor (MJ Johnston is amazing!) who has taught me something simple, yet essential to storytelling.

Ask a Question

Your novel idea should start with an overarching question: what is the purpose behind this story? Or, what question am I, the author, trying to answer?

For example, here are the questions my novels ask:

The Last Carolina Girl (available March 7, 2023, but pre-order now!): How can an orphan save herself when society and its laws are against her?

Good Southern Daughters (available 2024): What happens when the girl-next-door becomes pregnant out of wedlock and learns that love is conditional?

Your novel should be structured in a way to give an answer to that question. This question is for the author, to keep her focused, on track and moving the story forward. The question doesn’t have to be obviously stated for the reader, but can be cleverly woven through the narrative on a subconscious level.

Keep Asking Questions

Asking questions doesn’t stop with the overall story. Want to keep your reader turning pages? Make sure each chapter answers a question and then asks another one. This keeps your reader intrigued, creating a desire to read further.

In early drafts of The Last Carolina Girl, I focused a lot on day-to-day content. Once my main character, Leah, arrived at a new home, I spent a lot of time explaining that environment and what her daily life looked like. The novel was quite episodic. And, honestly, boring. But once I started asking questions, the pacing quickened and, I hope, so did the desire for the reader to keep going, to see what happens to Leah, to know if she saves herself or if society wins.

Set a Goal

A compelling story needs a goal, a destination to work toward, so the reader knows if the main character wins or loses in the end. Each chapter should communicate a yearning and contribute to the main character’s ultimate success or failure. Each chapter should have a clear goal that motivates the character, and builds the cause and effects as the tension mounts. This propels the reader through the story.

Create Conflict

Conflict creates suspense and keeps readers reading. Quiet novels don’t get a pass on this. A book without conflict is probably not going to interest many readers beyond your kind and supportive friends and family.

If your novel is quiet, then amp up the internal conflict. I had to focus on this during various rounds of editing because sometimes I wanted to take it easy on my characters, especially dear Leah. The girl is an orphan, after all! How much crueler could I be to her? Turns out, a lot.

While not every novel needs to be high suspense, it helps readers if we give them a reason to keep going, to keep turning pages, to keep rooting for our main characters. Question asking, goal setting and conflict creating can do just that.

I have great news: my historical fiction novel will be available March 28, 2023! Don’t miss news about THE LAST CAROLINA GIRL. Subscribe to my enewsletter for updates, sneak peeks, giveaways & behind-the-scene stories of my journey to becoming a debut author.

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